The French, not unlike their English-speaking friends, use quite a lot of swear words. French swear words don't denote only anger or frustration, but are used to express a whole range of expressions, from surprise to sadness, excitement or even pure joy.
One very convenient and popular French swear word is the famous "Putain !", understandably not taught at school by French teachers, but used in almost every sentence by French speakers, in every region of France!
Foreigners who come to visit France are often surprised to hear this unknown word all the time. Putain is literally an old colloquial word for prostitute, and is used to express almost anything.
You will hear French people say Putain ! when dropping something on the floor; when their favorite football team misses an easy goal; to welcome a friend paying an unexpected visit; when they are hot; when they are cold; when they can't remember what they had to do, etc.
Resources for further reading:
Here are some of the most basic French swear words to get you started. Further on in this lesson we will look at the pronunciation of these and more French swear words.
Let's get started...
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Another popular French word is "Merde !", which is both the literal and the correct translation of "Shit!". Same as the English word, it is used to express negative feelings: anger, disappointment, etc.
Both of these French swear words can easily be combined to obtain a very common exclamation:
Putain de merde !
"Shit" can also combine with "bordel", which literally means "whorehouse". Bordel can be used on its own to designate a very messy place, but is more often used to create exclamations such as:
Bordel de merde !
For f..k's sake!
or even, by adding putain:
Putain de bordel de merde !
For f..k's sake, f..k!
The verb "foutre", meaning literally "to f..k", is used in several expressions such as:
Je m'en fous
I don't give a f..k
Va te faire foutre !
Go f..k yourself!
These expressions are also very common; they are not only used by young punks, but are also sometimes heard in lively professional meetings, when things get tense! One swear word that sounds very vulgar is actually so common in some regions that it has lost some of its rudeness: the word "enculé", which literally describes someone who received a..l sex, can be used as an insult, but also just as a way of showing surprise, discomfort or excitement, pretty much like "putain", especially in the south of France:
Il fait chaud ici, enculé !
F..k, it's hot here!
"Chier" is a verb that can literally translate to "to take a shit", but is commonly used in very colorful expressions such as:
Il me fait chier !
He pisses me off!
Je me fais chier ici.
I'm bored shitless here.
Not every interjection is about shit or sex in French, there are also some polite ways of expressing surprise or disappointment, that are also quite popular, especially when young children are around:
French people of every age or social category like to use swear words, and it is not always considered very rude. It is for example not uncommon to hear "putain" or "merde" on French TV, even if TV presenters or politicians try to avoid these words as much as possible!
À bientôt !
Marie-Claire Rivière and the Rocket French Team
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